With the remaining Starks still reeling from "The Red Wedding," this fourth season of HBO's "Game of Thrones" picks up in Westeros, as the terrible King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) prepares to marry Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) reluctantly serves King Joffrey but receives an increasingly icy reception from sister Cersei (Lena Headey), causing him to turn toward despondent brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) for assistance. Tyrion is now married to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), but that union is short-lived. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and the Hound (Rory McCann) travel the wilderness together, and Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) prepares for a Wildling battle. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) continues her seasons-long preparations for battle, with her dragons becoming deadlier by the day.
Even after getting burned with the expensive spectacle "Rome", HBO went all in on "Game of Thrones," which is based on George R. R. Martin's celebrated "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels. They hired an expansive cast of excellent actors; shot in beautiful, exotic locations; constructed intricate, visually arresting sets; and used top-tier CGI to animate the dragons and other creatures. This is a show that transcends genres, and no longer can it be dismissed as mere fantasy. Gripping in its bloody politics and familial melodrama, "Game of Thrones" is strong in this fourth season, though slightly less forward moving than in the previous season. If anything, Daenerys' slow roll back toward Westeros, which takes much, much longer than this season's ten episodes, becomes monotonous. The Lannisters do much scheming this season, and their characters are a prickly, compelling bunch.
This fourth season follows the second half of Martin's "A Storm of Swords," and Thomas Spurlin wrote an extensive review of the original Blu-ray edition here. This recently released Steelbook Edition offers new Dolby Atmos tracks and fancy packaging, but may not necessarily be worth an upgrade if you already own the season in high definition. Steelbook fans will certainly want to grab this set, which also includes a collectible magnet, but others may be content to stick with the already excellent standard release. Either way, "Game of Thrones" is a phenomenal show that continues to successfully live up to - and top - previous successful seasons.
Each episode receives an excellent 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that offers impressive fine-object detail and texture. Close-ups reveal intimate facial details, the notable production design of fabrics and sets, and every bit of dirt, grime and blood shed during battle. Black levels and shadow detail are solid, colors are nicely saturated, and skin tones appear natural. Only briefly did I spot some noise in backgrounds, and a few compression artifacts popped up in darker, foggier scenes.
New to this re-release are Dolby Atmos surround tracks, which I sampled in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD. These mixes are absolutely theatrical in quality. The immersive action effects of battle surround the viewer. Dialogue is crisp and clean, whether delivered from the center channel or directionally. Ambient and environment effects are frequent and nuanced, and both clarity and range are excellent. Listen to those dragons snort and take to the skies! The score, and wonderful opening theme, is weighty and nicely integrated. English, French, Spanish, German and Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are a bunch of subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This four-disc set is packaged in a standard Steelbook, which slips inside a larger plastic box. A magnetic medallion is also included. Although handsomely crafted, I am not sold on the Steelbook packaging for a multi-disc TV season. The discs are stacked, which makes for somewhat difficult access, and the previous Blu-ray packaging was overall more aesthetically pleasing. An insert offers a code to redeem iTunes or UltraViolet HD digital copies of the episodes. As with the previous release, there are a ton of bonus features: You get Eleven Audio Commentaries; an In-Episode Guide for each of the ten episodes; animated Histories & Lore shorts; The Politics of Power: A Look Back at Season 3 (25 minutes/HD); New Characters and Locations (8 minutes/HD); Bastards of Westeros (7 minutes/HD); Behind the Battle of the Wall (37 minutes/HD); The Fallen: A Roundtable (30 minutes/HD); Deleted Scenes (3 minutes/HD); and a Blooper Reel (2 minutes/HD).
HBO's "Game of Thrones" continues to thrill and defy expectations. This fourth season offers excellent political drama, beautiful locations, fantastic performances and exciting action. This season is absolutely recommended. This new Blu-ray re-release offers Dolby Atmos audio and Steelbook packaging. Whether you upgrade is up to you. Recommended.